WSL Spring Series: Who justified Euro 2017 selection - who are the unlucky absentees?

Danielle Carter (left) and Fran Kirby
Danielle Carter (left) and Fran Kirby have been the top two English league goal scorers since the start of 2016 but only one of them is part of England's Euro 2017 squad

It's the end of the domestic season and a major tournament is around the corner for England Women.

Normally that would be the cue for a debate about which players have earned a 'seat on the plane'.

Ahead of Euro 2017, though, there will be no such deliberations following the conclusion of the Women's Super League Spring Series, as Lionesses boss Mark Sampson took the unusual step of naming his squad on 3 April, nearly 15 weeks before July's tournament in the Netherlands.

That decision caused eyebrows to be raised at the time, but now the WSL 1 league campaign is over, who among the chosen 23 justified their selection with fine displays for their clubs? And which players can count themselves unlucky to have a free summer?

'People wrote me off' - Kirby

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Highlights: Chelsea clinch Spring Series title

Fit-again Fran Kirby finished as the top scorer in the WSL 1 Spring Series, with six goals in five appearances, three of them as a substitute.

After being dubbed 'mini Messi' for her displays at the 2015 World Cup, the Chelsea striker struggled with injury last year, but was nevertheless included in Sampson's 23-player Euro squad.

If her selection was questionable at the time, she proved any doubters wrong with some clinical finishing to help Chelsea win the title race.

"I think a lot of people had completely written me off, if I'm honest," the 23-year-old told BBC Sport. "Everyone had the right to write me off. I hadn't been playing for a year.

"I wasn't fit. I wasn't sharp. So I needed to make sure I pushed myself in training. The Chelsea girls in training were amazing.

"It's been tough mentally, really tough. I think I've proved I'm mentally strong and I'm feeling physically stronger than I ever have done, because I spent the past year just in the gym all day every day."

Sampson added: "It was a big boost for everyone. We were confident she was going to be fit.

"Looking at the injury, it was a tough one for Fran to miss so much football, but to see her come back and playing so well, it's great to see."

Big summer ahead for Nobbs?

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Nobbs lights up WSL with amazing free-kick

England and Arsenal midfielder Jordan Nobbs was undoubtedly one of the stars of the Spring Series and helped the third-placed Gunners end their campaign unbeaten.

Having picked up a hamstring injury during the World Cup in Canada, this summer's tournament in the Netherlands could see Nobbs shine on the global stage for the first time.

Her swerving, long-range direct free-kick in their win at Manchester City was arguably the strike of the season and was one of four she scored in eight league starts.

A versatile midfielder with pace, vision and an eye for goal, she has the potential to play a talismanic role for Sampson's team, who start their campaign against Scotland on 19 July.

But the 24-year-old's inclusion by Sampson was not controversial - unlike the selection of eight players from Manchester City, whose players are now the core of the Lionesses squad.

However, City enjoyed another successful campaign in all competitions, lifting their first Women's FA Cup and reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League.

England players Lucy Bronze, Izzy Christiansen and Jill Scott all scored for City on the big stage at Wembley in the cup final, while striker Toni Duggan impressed with an 18-minute hat-trick in their win at Bristol City.

How far is Walsh from a senior call-up?

Keira Walsh
Keira Walsh started six of Manchester City's eight league games in the Spring Series

Another player who shone for City this term was holding midfielder Keira Walsh, who was named Player of the Match in their Wembley win over Birmingham City.

But the 20-year-old England Under-23 international is yet to win her first senior cap, despite helping City win three major trophies in the past 13 months.

So was Walsh unfortunate to miss out on a spot at Euro 2017?

"Keira Walsh has been a pivotal player for Manchester City for the past two seasons," former England goalkeeper and Women's Football show pundit Rachel Brown-Finnis told BBC Sport.

"But she's very young and has got to bide her time, she hasn't been involved in the seniors yet.

"I wouldn't have expected her to feature this summer, but she will be in contention for the next major championship.

"I think a lot of the big name foreign players have really shone in this Spring Series - so Mark Sampson is not really missing any England players that were on form.

"But it's going to be difficult for him to pick his 11 from the 23, the strength of squad is a massive bonus and I think it will be similar to the World Cup where he used all of his players in different formations."

Jess Carter (left), Aoife Mannion and Paige Williams (right)
Eight of the current 20-player England Under-23 squad play for Birmingham City Ladies

Sampson's squad for the Euros has an average age of over 28, and no players under the age of 23 have been included.

Among the youngsters who must wait for her senior bow is 19-year-old winner of the PFA Women's Young Player of the Year award, Jess Carter.

She, along with fellow England Under-23 internationals Aoife Mannion, 21, and left-back Paige Williams, 22, played a key role in helping Birmingham reach the cup final.

Arsenal striker out the squad but in the goals

Arsenal striker Danielle Carter was arguably one of the most unfortunate absentees from Sampson's squad, having impressed for the Gunners again this term.

The 24-year-old has scored six times in her three senior England appearances - netting two hat-tricks against minnows Estonia - but is not in Sampson's immediate plans.

Back in April, 2016 WSL 1 top scorer Eniola Aluko's omission from the squad generated headlines, and she accused Sampson of sending out a "dangerous message" by not picking players on form.

But the Chelsea forward did not find the net in the Spring Series, from two league starts and one substitute appearance.

English scorers in WSL 1 since 2016
2016 league goals2017 league goalsTotal
(Euro 2017-bound England players in bold)
Fran Kirby (Chelsea)5611
Danielle Carter (Arsenal6410
Eniola Aluko (Chelsea)909
Toni Duggan (Man City)549
Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal)448

Analysis - Carter 'won't want to miss out on 2019'

BBC Women's Football reporter Jo Currie:

"Danielle Carter is one player who may have wished the England squad had been named closer to the Euros, having impressed once again during the Spring Series.

"The striker finished joint third in the race for the golden boot and helped guide Arsenal to a third-place finish, just one point behind champions Chelsea.

"Carter has recently been linked with a move away from Arsenal and, after not receiving an England call-up for 15 months, the transfer may be what she needs if she wants to avoid missing out on the World Cup in 2019."

Unattached Bassett 'working harder than ever'

One Euro 2017-bound England player has not played any league football this year, following the liquidation of top-flight club Notts County Ladies.

Lionesses trio Carly Telford, Jade Moore and Jo Potter all quickly found new WSL 1 clubs, but centre-back Laura Bassett opted to remain as a free agent.

The 33-year-old has been training full-time with Birmingham to keep in shape, but is yet to sign a deal with any club.

Sampson added: "It's been nice to see Jo, Jade and Carly in particular playing some games. I think Carly will gain a lot of confidence form playing in a winning Chelsea team.

"With Bass, we had a good conversation. Knowing Laura, she's a model professional. She understands where she needs to be as she's been to so many tournaments in the past.

"She's on the phone every day with our strength & conditioning [team]. She's working harder than she ever has done, and looks in great shape as well."

Fran Kirby and Mark Sampson were speaking to the BBC's Jo Currie.

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